All Ages

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Michael Chabon & kids comics

For an industry generally not concerned with making books for younger audiences, people certainly have a lot to say about it.

Michael Chabon's keynote speech at the Eisners was basically a call-to-arms for the industry to bring kids back to comics. He explains how we finally have the recognition of graphic novels as a serious artform and a canon of great titles for adults. However, a medium where the primary audience initially was kids, it's disappointing that there isn't the same thing with graphic novels for a children's audience. Sitting at the Cartoon Books table with Jeff Smith and his crew, along with David Saylor, creative director from Scholastic, I could almost visualize a big neon sign over our heads stating: "It begins here..." It was uncannily synchonistic considering this was the year we launched Graphix in San Diego.

A week later, various comics news sites like Newsarama and the Pulse have excerpts from Chabon's speech and then all hell breaks loose. Cameron Stewart posted a link to Chabon's speech on the Millarworld boards, which spawned an 8-page thread where creators and fans came out to comment on the state of kids comics. Mark Millar thinks comics for younger audiences is wishful thinking and goes on to explain how Batman and Superman Adventures sold like shit. Bendis feels there's no marketing and found Chabon's address elitist. Bryan Hitch thinks that the primary audience for comics is a 12-year old boy older because comics are adolescent male power fantasies.

What blows my mind about this thread is the default thinking that kids want to read Marvel and DC, want to read about superheroes and will buy comics in their traditional pamphlet form from comic book stores. This just isn't the case and misses the point of Chabon's speech completely. Kids comics need to reflect the booming children's book business of late -- good, relevant stories that tap into key events and emotions that every child experiences, a wide range of content from high adventure to quirky romance, venues where parents, teachers and kids will buy these books and equivalent & expected pricing to other 'like' books.

I've always wondered in regards to Marvel and DC's licenses if there's just too much of a cultural gap when it comes to their major icons and today's kids. It's sort of equivalent to the kind of gap with characters like James Bond and Tarzan for my generation. I'd probably go see a Tarzan movie or play a Tarzan video game, but as a casual fan, the chance of me seeking out original Tarzan material is slim. Kids know who Spider-Man, Superman and Batman are, but do they really feel the need to go after that original material? Just a thought.

In any case, the continuing conversation spilled over at the
Fanboy Rampage blog
where I've commented on the Scholastic line a bit. Heidi MacDonald has some really interesting things to say, as does Chris Butcher. Definitely worth wading through...

It'll be curious to see how this plays out in the next year or so, especially after that initial $150,000 marketing launch for BONE.

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